How to deal with SEO in multinational organizations

Search engine optimization (SEO) is consistently ranked as one of the most effective digital marketing methods, but if your organization has websites in several countries, how do you prioritize SEO efforts and make sure you get the most value for your brand? Often large organizations with global reach experience new sorts of problems that small organizations don’t see.

Silicon Valley-based Andreas Ramos who is a past J. Boye conference speaker, has a multinational client with offices in 65 countries, who has dealt with these issues.

In this blog, Andreas will describe the most common problems and how to approach these successfully.

How to deal with common SEO problems

Although the client has a strict rule that every country must follow the branding guidelines, I’ve discovered that often, VPs and directors in various countries do things differently.

VPs’ compensation and bonus is based on sales, so they don’t bother with rules from an office far away. If a VP feels a product needs stronger local promotion, she will use her personal credit card to set up her own websites in her language. Furthermore, some cultures tend to have a relaxed attitude about rules, especially if the home office rarely contacts them. VPs and directors in those countries ask me for SEO help on their sites and pages. Of course, I help them.

The organization has a person in charge of the domain name registrations. This includes renewals, taking them away from squatters, and so on. I asked her how many domain names she manages, and she said “around 2,000”. “What do you mean, “around”?” She said there could be another thousand domain names. She constantly discovered new domain names that had been registered by staffers. She asks them to transfer the ownership of the domain names and she takes over the renewal payments. A significant problem are the domain names that were created by staffers who later left the organization, which makes it very difficult to recover ownership of the domain name.

Another SEO problem for large organizations is the ownership of a keyword. If the organization has a number of teams, several teams may want the ownership of the keyword. The team wants the keyword to appear only on its page and not on any other page at the company.

Again, this can be a serious issue because teams are rewarded with compensation and bonus with respect to sales. Teams will fight over keywords. This can cause many wasted hours of meetings and worse yet, this creates political maneuvers. CEOs and CMOs end up having to make decisions about keywords.

There’s a solution.

If several teams want the same keyword, then create a neutral page with that keyword and then add links to each team. “Looking for Our Titanium Propellers? See Airplane Propellers, Helicopter Propellers, Hovercraft Propellers, Ship Propellers, Submarine Propellers, and so on.” This leads to world peace and higher conversion rates. Instead returning to Google to find another site for the keyword, people can quickly navigate to the right department.

4 tips on how to deal with SEO in multinational organizations

Here’s a recap of the the main advice from Andreas Ramos:

  1. Create a Levels system which decides how much translation, time, and money will be allocated to each site. See below for more details on this approach.

  2. Develop flexible rules for branding that will support local initiative. Accept that local offices will act on their own (which means they take initiative, and that’s a good thing) and offer a folder with branding guidelines, logos, fonts, colors, HTML code, WordPress templates, tools, and so on so these sites look like the corporate site.

  3. Make sure someone is responsible for management of domain names. Again, accept that cowboys will create domains on their own so offer to pay the renewal fees which lets you maintain ownership. This isn’t a small issue: any organization that’s in just a few countries may discover it has perhaps 50 domain names (, .org, .net, .de, .dk, .co, .mobi, .info, and more) which means a registration must be renewed every week. Failure to renew can lead to loss of the site (and a competitor or spammer can buy the domain name). As your company grows, it will run into this issue.

  4. Let teams know they can share keywords. Make a list of the top keywords and send this to the marketing directors to see which keywords they want. If two or more want the same keyword, make a shared landing page for it. If you don’t do this, teams will waste time and money in competition for the keywords.

The Level system: helping you prioritize your resources

As I said, my client has websites in 65 countries. To decide how much time and money to spend on each website, sometime long ago someone created the Level system.

This system sorts markets into different levels based on the annual revenue from that country. Markets that send lots of money to the home office get more help; smaller markets get less help.

  • Level 1: The home country’s website. This is the official site. Because it is a global organization, everything is in English.

  • Level 2, Major Markets: These markets account for significant revenues. These include Germany, France, China, the US, and so on. About 80% of the corporate site is translated for those markets. The remainder of the pages are in English.

  • Level 3, Second-level Major Markets: These are mostly smaller European markets, such as Denmark, Sweden, and Italy. Several layers of the main website, starting from the top, are translated, along with manuals, sales material, reference material, FAQs, white papers, PowerPoints, and so on. The rest is in English.

  • Level 4, Third-level Markets: This includes Mexico, Colombia, Indonesia, and so on. Only the first two layers of the website and selected content are translated. The rest is in English.

  • Level 5, Minor Markets: This includes Azerbaijan, Central African Republic, etc. They get one page in their language (some countries have several major languages, so one page in each language).

Again, this levels-system is based on revenue and nothing else.

You can use the same structure to decide how deep to translate, how to build the overall structure for your websites and how deep to translate.

In terms of SEO support, I deal with these countries on the same basis. Level 2 gets a weekly one-hour support call. For Level 3 and 4, I send them information about SEO and answer questions by email.

Be sure to let each country team know how much support they can expect and request.

In summary, as you begin your organization’s plans for world conquest, be sure to build these solutions into your structure. Good luck!

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